In the span of 24 hours, the Philadelphia Union parted ways with the only two all-stars in franchise history – captain Faryd Mondragón and leading scorer Sébastien Le Toux.
So in the wake of those surprising moves, the question for Union manager Peter Nowak was a simple one: Why?
The answer could also be summed up simply: because of the future.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Nowak discussed how trading Le Toux to Vancouver for allocation money – while the veteran’s pricetag was high – will free up money to reinvest in the franchise and lock up the team’s brightest young stars.
One of those young stars is Roger Torres, who will remain with the club for the foreseeable future after the Union announced Tuesday they had completed a transfer for the 20-year-old playmaker from Colombian side América de Cali.
Nowak also indicated the club is planning to improve and extend the contracts of youngsters like 21-year-old fullback Sheanon Williams and said the idea that they are shopping 20-year-old striker Danny Mwanga, who’s currently training with Aston Villa, is “completely false.”
“To build a club, it’s all about the future,” Nowak said, noting the Le Toux trade was directly related to the Torres transfer. “It’s not about one player. It’s about the future. We feel very strongly about that.”
While releasing Mondragón so he could play for the Colombian club Deportivo Cali was at the goalkeeper’s request – “Of course we were surprised, but he expressed his wish and we granted his wish,” Nowak said – it appears Le Toux did not want to leave Philly, where he had become a fan favorite and the face of the franchise.
The star Frenchman, who had 25 goals and 20 assists for the Union in the club’s first two seasons, tweeted that it was the “saddest day” for him earlier on Tuesday. Nowak admitted it’s never easy to part with a player, especially one as talented as Le Toux, but also noted that “feelings are not included in my job description.”
“It’s more important for me to see the overall picture and see how pieces fall into place and what kind of philosophy and vision we have as a team,” said Nowak, adding that the Whitecaps made a “very strong approach” after it was made public that the deal with Bolton – where Le Toux had been on trial – would not go through.
The exits of the 40-year-old Mondragón and the 28-year-old Le Toux make a young team even younger, with defender Danny Califf and midfielder Brian Carroll emerging as the only remaining MLS veterans on the roster. But Nowak believes the leadership both Mondragón and Le Toux provided will “stay with the group forever.”
“The last couple of years, Sébastien and Faryd gave the group a lot of confidence,” Nowak said. “They gave them faith, gave them the mentality of how to win games and how to be true professionals.”
There are, however, still many lingering questions as to how the Union will cope without those two players. Which of the young strikers will help fill the major scoring void left by Le Toux? How will the 20-year-old Zac MacMath handle the starting goalkeeper responsibilities in his second year in the league and who will back him up? Will any of the team’s newcomers become a vocal leader like Mondragón did last year?
Those questions will likely begin to be answered as the preseason progresses. For now, Nowak only asks for trust that putting faith in the young core is the right thing to do and the only way to create a “sustainable, competitive advantage” in the years to come.
“Let them play the games and then we can judge from that,” Nowak said. “It’s unfair to the guys in the locker room to say this group is inexperienced.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com